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Plan to name Israel street after Egypt singer rouses anger

Legendary Egyptian singer stirs controversy. Haifa city council's proposal to name a street after Umm Kulthum

Plans to re-name a street in an Israeli city after an Egyptian singer has roused an angry response online.

Umm Kulthum, who was known as “the Star of the East” or “the Lady of Cairo”, was an Egyptian-born singer and actress who was popular across the Arab world.

The street, located in Haifa, is set to be renamed in Umm Kulthum’s honour after the city’s authorities decided to make the change last month.

Born in 1898, Umm Kulthum sang throughout her life, and performed in Haifa in the 1930s, before the state of Israel was established.

The Egyptian-born singer was later an activist for the Palestinian cause and was termed the fourth Pyramid of Giza during the Six-Day War in 1967, when she sang lyrics willing the Arab armies to victory.

Umm Kulthum also sang the line, “Now I have a gun, take me in, Palestine, with you”, in one of her songs.

READ: Umm Kulthum & The Golden Era

In response to the re-naming plans, Haifa-based newspaper Kol Po published Umm Kulthum’s pro-Palestine lyrics, with a picture of the singer.

Ariel Kallner, a lawmaker from the conservative Likud party, later wrote in the local daily saying he was “saddened” by the decision, claiming Umm Kulthum had “called for the destruction of the Jewish state” and therefore should not be honoured.

Kallner later promised to attempt to prevent the street being re-named, AFP reported.

Meanwhile, some Israeli conservatives have been harsher in their condemnation of the decision, with Yair Netanyahu, son of the current Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, tweeting in Hebrew that the decision was both “shameful and crazy”.

While one Twitter page called StandWithUs – a Zionist organisation aimed at “helping educating people in Israel and the Middle East”, according to the profile’s bio – shared a picture of a restaurant in Haifa called Umm Kulthum.

“Umm Kulthum is very popular in Israel,” the Arabic tweet read.

However, the decision has not just garnered outrage from Israelis, but Arabs as well. One user wrote in Arabic, “they steal our streets and then they name them after us. Wow, how classy!”

The decision to re-name the street was intended to celebrate the “diversity” of the city, which claims ten per cent of its 300,000-strong population are Arab, according to a report by AFP.

The city, Haifa town council head Einat Kalisch-Rotem was quoted by AFP as saying, “represents a model of co-existence between Arabs and Jews”.

Despite outrage, this is not the first street in Israel to be renamed after Umm Kulthum. A street in the Beit Hanina area of eastern Jerusalem was re-named in the Egpytian-singer’s honour in 2011, while a similar change is being planned for the city of Ramla, according to AFP. Both areas have significant Arab populations.

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